Coalition fights back against marijuana legalization

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published June 14, 2017


CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — The future is hazy as it pertains to whether recreational marijuana will be supported or rejected by Michigan residents in 2018, if it makes the ballot, but the battle is already being waged.

On May 5, petition language was turned in to the Michigan Secretary of State, on behalf of the pro-legalization group the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. From that date, the group has 180 days to collect 252,523 signatures.

If that number is reached, the Legislature will decide whether to approve the signatures and put the initiative on the 2018 ballot.

This is the second effort in the state — whose residents voted to legalize medical marijuana nearly a decade ago — to allow residents to vote for or against the measure at ballot boxes. In 2016, a group called MiLegalize obtained enough signatures, but not within the required 180-day timeframe.

Some local groups are already fighting back. One of those is the Chippewa Valley Schools Coalition for Youth and Families.

Charlene McGunn, the coalition’s executive director, recently discussed efforts to push back against the normality of a marijuana-infused culture. She was joined by Jamie Seifert and Stephanie Lange, two members of the coalition’s Youth Marijuana Use Prevention Committee.

The coalition’s fundraising goal for the entire campaign is $8 million to $10 million, according to coalition spokesman Josh Hovey.

“The fundraising is ongoing and support is building across the state, so we believe that goal will be achievable,” Hovey said. “And yes, we are confident we will have the number of signatures needed. We are getting calls and emails on a daily basis from people who are eager to sign the petition and help collect signatures.”

He added that signatures will be collected the entire summer, with a goal of submitting them to the state by early fall.

“When you have that kind of money, it’s not surprising you can get signatures,” McGunn said. “What we find on a community level is that when people really understand the effects of marijuana, they very much change their minds — especially parents. They are the group that is most attentive to the effects of marijuana on kids, and rightly so, because marijuana is a drug that has many detrimental effects to youth, all very well research-based.”

Lange said she was disappointed, adding that she felt like school officials and parents have been worn down the past few years. She also doesn’t believe the hype of how money hypothetically taxed on legal marijuana would help improve schools and general economics.

“They don’t have any evidence that shows it’s going to do anything great for our economy,” Lange said. “We have evidence that shows what happens to children in communities where this happens. … Once it happens and it infiltrates everything, it’s going to be so hard to fix it. We’d rather not have to fix it.”

McGunn referenced states like Colorado and Washington, which both led the charge on legalized recreational marijuana. She said both states lead the nation in youth and adult marijuana use, which she said  has profound consequences on child education, business, unemployment, crime, fatalities and more.

The three women acknowledged that not everyone has data to back up their arguments, and that’s a large part of the problem. The coalition references data from groups like Mobilizing Michigan, which use source data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, among many others.

According to researchers at the University of Mississippi, the potency of THC — which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol and is the addictive element in marijuana — has increased 3 to 7 1/2 times since the 1990s.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence state that the younger that marijuana use begins, the higher the potential for addiction. One in six teens who use marijuana become addicted, the study states, and each year more teens enter treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana addiction than for all other illegal drugs combined.

When asked why substances like marijuana are illegal when items like alcohol and tobacco are readily available and have been known to cause death in the form of disease and car crashes, Lange said she teaches students that adults can have a glass of wine or a can of beer with dinner and not be intoxicated.

Alcohol doesn’t stay in your system for days or weeks like marijuana does, she argued, while THC is fat soluble. She asks her students if they would want to be operated  on by a surgeon who smoked marijuana, or be flown cross country by a pilot who indulges.

“What about just being sober?” Lange said. “Why are we deciding which drug is worse or better? What ever happened to that novel concept of sobriety and just living life on life’s terms?”

Seifert, who worked for a substance abuse agency for 23 years, said proponents of recreational marijuana discuss revenue and taxation, but they ignore effects to police department staffing, hospital admissions and long-term medical costs.

She said adults have to put themselves in the minds of teenagers.

“Their job is to rebel,” Seifert said. “They want someplace they can do something that their parents or society doesn’t want them to do. All we’re doing with legalization, or saying it’s a recreational drug, is saying it’s OK. It’s ridiculous.”

McGunn said the marijuana industry is opening the substance to an entire arena of people who are not understanding the dangerous effects of the substance in the first place.

She mentioned how marijuana is no longer consumed just by smoking. Nowadays, the marijuana market has moved to edibles — such as brownies or cookies that can be digested — as well as oils composed of heavy concentrates.

Lange mentioned gummy bears containing marijuana and how it’s an obvious marketing ploy for younger children. Seifert said, “It’s Joe Camel all over again.”

But even with the data, marijuana legalization is seemingly growing. It’s already legal for recreation use in several states — Colorado, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts —  and the District of Columbia, and efforts continue in the both the recreational and medicinal realm.

More than one-third of U.S. states have already legalized medicinal marijuana.

McGunn continues to stay optimistic. She hopes that community-based education impacts what occurs in Michigan. She said coalitions both local and statewide are very concerned about the path toward legalization, and they’re working diligently to protect community values.

Seifert said the issue must focus on the children, who are the future and would grow up in a different society.

“We don’t make up information,” McGunn said. “We don’t have the latitude to just make up statements. … I see the counter argument is transparently wrong. It’s very hard to take data that comes from respected sites and distort the data. If you stick with the facts and stick with the truth, that’s all we can do.”